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HISTORY OF COLLECTIONS IN ALBERTA

The geology and palaeontology of the Late Cretaceous of Alberta has been has been intensely studied over the past century, due, in part, to the large amount of its easily accessible outcrop.  The time interval represented includes the late Santonian to the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.  There have been more than 100 vertebrate holotypes collected from this region with more than 70 representing a variety of dinosaur taxa (Currie, 2005). Many of these taxa come from material collected in and around what is now the UNESCO World Heritage site, Dinosaur Provincial Park, and the Red Deer River Valley surrounding Drumheller. The vertebrate fossil resources south of the Dinosaur Park region have received relatively little consideration although the Oldman formation near Warner is notable for producing the famous Devil’s Coulee dinosaur nesting locality.

The modern era of fossil exploration in southern Alberta began in 1874 when George Mercer Dawson, son of Sir William Dawson of McGill University, found dinosaur bones along the Milk River and in southern Saskatchewan in the Wood Mountain area. In 1882, Richard George McConnell found dinosaur fossils at Scabby Butte.  In 1884, Joseph Burr Tyrrell collected a large theropod skull just outside of the present day Drumheller, eventually becoming the holotype of Albertosaurus sarcophagus Osborn, 1905.

Lawrence Lambe of the Geological Survey of Canada first came to the Dinosaur Provincial Park region in 1897, and began field work in 1898. Barnum Brown from the American Museum of Natural History arrived in Alberta in 1910 and collected material until 1915. Charles H. Sternberg and his sons, Charles M., George and Levi began working in Alberta on behalf of the Canadian government in 1912 (although Levi spent 1911 and 1912 working for Brown). Levi eventually went to work for the Royal Ontario Museum in 1921 while George worked briefly for the University of Alberta. Charles M. (“Charlie) stayed with the Geological Survey and later the National Museum of Canada until he retired in 1954.  Charlie spent parts of the 1937 field season in southeastern Alberta collecting from the area south and east of Manyberries.

Wann Langston, Jr. was hired to replace Charlie and actively collected dinosaurs in Western Canada between 1954 and 1962. In August 1954 Langston and Loris Russell rediscovered the Pachyrhinosaurus bone bed at Scabby Butte previously discovered by Charlie Sternberg. Together they collected two skulls and over 200 bones from the bone bed. Langston later published (1975, 1976) the first detailed study of a dinosaur bone bed in Alberta and recognized the remains of 32 different vertebrate species.

Although the government of Alberta created Dinosaur Provincial Park in 1955 (designated a World Heritage Site in 1979) and much of the vertebrate palaeontological work in the province is still centered there (see Currie, 2005, for a summary), the remainder of the province still holds an abundance of dinosaur material to discover.  In the north, Grande Praire has several important Pachyrhinosaurus bone beds while Grande Cache has a wealth of dinosaur footprints and trackways associated with the mining operations in the region.  The area in and around Edmonton and the North Saskatchewan River has produced bone beds and individual specimens including a T. rex footprint with skin impression.  In addition to the historical work done in southern Alberta, interest in the region was rekindled in 1986 when the dinosaur nesting site was found in Devil’s Coulee near Warner which produced the new hadrosaur species, Hypacrosaurus sebingerii (Horner and Currie, 1994).  More recently a new chasmosaur from the uppermost Dinosaur Park Formation, Chasmosaurus irvinensis, originally collected by Wann Langston, Jr. in 195X, from Irvine was described by Holmes et al. (2001).  Ryan and Russell (2005) described Centrosaurus brinkmani from the Oldman Formation based, in part, on material collected from near the Devil’s Coulee site.  Ryan (in press) has described a bizarre centrosaur with long, massive brow horns from the Foremost Formation collected along the Milk River badlands.

Check out photos from Wann Langston Jr.'s expeditions in Alberta.

 © 2007 The Southern Alberta Dinosaur Research Group.